Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Finding OJ (The juice, not The Juice)

While I've been quietly taking the summer off, here's someone who actually followed through when she investigated a basic food comodity. 

Author Alissa Hamilton blogged about orange juice back in a 2009 post: Freshly Squeezed: The Truth About Orange Juice in Boxes

It turns out that even "not from concentrate" orange juices are deoxygenated and stored in large vats, robbing them of flavor.  Throughout the year, the inventory is refreshed with flavor packs that come right from the same fragrance firms that naturally and artificially enhance the flavors of much of our processed food.

The Consumerist recently reposted Alissa's findings in a piece titled:  The Flavor Of Your OJ Is A Chemically-Induced Mirage.

This prompted the Florida Department of Citrus to issue this remarkably meek denial:

By utilizing state-of-the-art technology, Florida is able to provide a consistent supply of high quality, nutritious orange juice year round....  During processing, natural components such as orange aroma, orange oil from the peel, and pulp may be separated from the orange juice. After the juice is pasteurized, these natural orange components may be added back to the orange juice for optimal flavor.
As the discerning reader may notice, the Florida Department of Citrus denied absolutely nothing.  They merely pointed out that the "flavor packs" used by the industry, are originally derived from parts of oranges.

The Consumerist sums up its findings:

If this is the type of thing that bothers you, buying OJ from the store in May through June is the only way to ensure that most of the juice is from fresh Valencia oranges. The rest of the year it's reflavored sugar water from a tank farm.
You can learn more from the United States Department of Agriculture in this study.  To read more marketing gibberish designed to sell orange juice without technically flat-out lying, you can go to the misleadingly-named www. OrangeJuiceFacts.com, put up by the Florida Department of Citrus.

What do you think about OJ?


Friday, July 8, 2011

Finding A Crack

Here's a brief article on a Friday afternoon.  It's a little overly alarmist, but it does mention milk at least once.

And it's from one of my favorite places on the web, Cracked.Com.

The 5 Most Horrifying Things Corporations Are Taking Over

They're funnier than me, but only insofar as their jokes are concerned.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Finding A Nice Cup Of Tea

Creeping Breakstonism.

Breakstone's is a small name owned by a huge multinational agribusiness, still trading on a folksy familiarity that is long gone if it ever existed at all.  We know it happened.  Does it still happen?  Can we watch evolution in progress?

Friend of the FSB, Leonard Stoehr, may have found an example.

See?  It's a great company.  Because they're
having fun right now.
Sweet Leaf Iced Teas hasn't been around for very long, but they've got a great story.  Clayton Christopher, a former cyclist, got the idea in 1997 to make a bottled tea that tasted better than the available brands.  He wanted it to be as good as his grandmother, Mimi's.  With garden hoses, pillow cases, a used van and a loan from his dad, he bottled his iced teas and begged shop owners for shelf-space.  

Clayton was joined in 1999 by his childhood friend, David Smith.  The brand took off at the 2002 Austin City Limits music festival.  Since then, they've upgraded their headquarters several times, grown to 45 or so employees, grown their line to a dozen products and counting, and begun distributing teas and lemonades worldwide.

But they're still a crazy, young, upstart of a company, as the hand-drawn look of their website invites us to think.  They believe in "laughter, high fives, and good music."  They blog about music festivals.  They delight in telling us that employee Elizabeth Barber's beagle is named Bentley, although they never get around to describing what EB's job is.  And they heavily invoke the image of granny, who's picture is their logo.

Grandma be fat.
Now, you can probably tell that a lot of the Sweet Leaf brand image is hokum.  For instance, they tell us that granny's recipe called for "pure cane sugar."  It's amazing that granny, all those years ago, would accurately be able to predict the consumer trend away from high-fructose corn syrup in the late 2000's.  And no matter how much their employees love wholesome parties and alt concerts, they must be getting some work done.

Some information about the company is just plain missing.  For instance, Sweet Leaf magically went from being brewed in a garage to not being brewed anywhere - the website makes no mention of where their products are made.  Likely, they'd been bottled by contract-factories in different parts of the country for several years.

And some information on the website is a flat-out lie.  Founder Clayton Christopher is still listed as an employee (or "tea-mate" as the website calls him).  Under their Frequently Asked Questions appears this:

Is Sweet Leaf Tea a public company?
No, Sweet Leaf Tea is a privately held company.
That's not true.  The truth is, however, there on the website.  It's not easy to find and it's buried under a whole lot of nonsense.  But it's there.  What makes this a case of Creeping Breakstonism?

Sweet Leaf Tea is wholly owned by Nestlé.

Nestlé:  the largest food corporation on earth.  If you have ever eaten, you've eaten Nestlé.  Here's a partial list of their brands.

I do not agree with this website.  But the graphic is hell-a-cool.
Sweet Leaf benefited from a large investment from Nestlé, turning over 35% of its shares in exchange for $15,600,000.00 in 2009.

Founder Clayton Christopher took to the company's blog to explain the decision:

Having Nestle help us with our distribution it will put our brand on more shelves and give more consumers the choice of buying a better bottled tea.  They are also going to help us reduce our bottle weight which is great for the environment (Nestle uses less plastic in their bottles than any other beverage company on the planet).  If it takes letting the “Big Guys” own a piece of our company in order to give consumers healthier and tastier choices then I think it’s absolutely worth it.
He didn't exactly mention that he had been paid millions.  And the multinational wasn't "helping" with distribution so much as it was "owning" Sweet Leaf's entire distribution network.  In fact,  Nestlé made more than a few small changes, including installing their own man as president of the company.  But Clayton did make a bold statement:
If they buy the rest of our company years down the road and change our recipe (won’t happen under my watch) then David and I will start another tea company and do it all over again. :)
In other news, Nestlé bought out the rest of the company.  Also, Clayton  Christopher ended his watch.  The Nestlé guy is now the president and CEO.

Seriously, some people really have a problem with Nestlé.
Now, let's make a couple things clear:  Sweat Leaf teas seem to be good products.  They won awards from Self magazine and BevNet.  People are buying them.  Also, the company really was started by two best friends with a van and a dream.  Furthermore, Nestlé is not evil.  Nor has Nestlé's ownership affected the quality of the beverages - both awards were won after the conglomerate's investment.  And they don't seem to have replaced the cane sugar with HFCS,

But Breakstonism is upon us.  The world's largest food distributor is pretending it's a small iced tea company.  The myth of Sweet Leaf remains firmly in place, with no mention of the food giant on the company's front page and a slideshow of the company's history that stops in 2008.  And Nestlé is free to change the recipe, add or subtract flavors, limit or expand markets and generally do whatever they want.

Will there be changes?  Eighty years from now, will the product be the same as all other mass-produced teas?  Will Clayton Christopher become Sam Breakstone?

What do you think?


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GMIICTDT IV: Finding Sam Adams

In honor of Independence Day, I took a short break from finding Sam Breakstone (which I totally did) to look for another mythic figure from American History, patriot Sam Adams.

Sam Adams:  American patriot and
all-around scary looking guy.
Samuel Adams, the second cousin of John Adams, was born in 1722 in Boston.  He lived most of his life in the Boston area and became a passionate champion of American independence long, long before it was fashionable.   A born populist, Adams spent years agitating for colonial rights.  He managed to somehow be at every single important event in the politics of the Revolutionary War - participating in the Boston Tea Party, creation of the minutemen,  the Second Continental Congress, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the writing of the Articles of Confederation.

Here's how important Sam Adams was:  You know Paul Revere's famous midnight ride was undertaken to warn that the British were coming.  Did you know Revere was riding specifically to warn Sam Adams that the British were coming to arrest him?  That's the only reason Revere was on the horse.

Adams served in the Massachusetts Senate and was the fourth governor of the state.  It is speculated by some that Adams would have made an excellent candidate for President except that he died eight years before the position was created.  Incidentally, he was for mortgages on land and against Shay's Rebellion, putting him on the right side of history every damn time. 

And how has his memory been honored?  By being appropriated by businessmen to openly invite consumers to delude themselves.

Oh, for the love of ...
First of all, Samuel Adams Boston Lager has nothing whatsoever to do with Samuel Adams.

Are any of the founders of the Boston Beer Company related to Sam Adams?  No.  Not even remotely.

Did they use Sam Adam's recipe?  No.  They did not.  Founder Jim Koch's family had been making beer for five generations.  His great-great-grandfather, Louis Koch, started brewing in the 1860s.  The particular recipe on which Sam Adams is based dates from the 1870's.

Koch's family story is actually pretty cool.  He's the first-born male lineal descendant of beer brewers.  His father was a brewer, his father's father was a brewer, his father's father's ... it's a long line.  Prohibition stopped them for a time (usually known as the 1920s).  Large distributors like these guys had driven his father out of business.  But in 1984, at the age of 35, Koch (pronounced Cook), was poised to make a comeback with a 110-year-old four-ingredient recipe he made in his kitchen.

It's a great story.  In a lot of ways, it's way better than  Breakstone's.  But Jim Koch didn't like it enough to sell beer.  Instead, he just called the stuff Sam Adams and desperately hoped that the real Sam Adams wouldn't rise from his grave and representatively legislate him to death.

Adams is in here somewhere, decomposing patrioticly.
Okay, Adams didn't invent Sam Adams Boston Lager, but he was a brewer, right?  I mean, it says so right on the bottle.

Well, they're half right
Nope.  Adams wasn't a brewer.  His father was a maltster, owning a business that Adams ran as a young man.  This leads naturally to the question of what the hell is a maltster.  It turns out that a maltster is a person who makes malt for use in the making of beer and other alcoholic beverages.  Barley or another grain is sprouted, roasted, mixed with sugar water, thrown away and then the water is boiled down to a dark mess.  It's all detailed here.  In the old, old days, brewers would make the malt themselves.  By the 1700s, though, specialized maltsters had sprung up.  You can still buy the stuff.  It comes in all sorts of varieties and is useful for making bagels, baked beans, beer and other things that start with B.

But being a maltster does not equal being a brewer any more than, say, making paper equals publishing the New York Times.  Any more than picking cotton equals making soft, comfortable Hanes undershirts.  Make up an example of your own.  It's fun.

So, Sam Adams has nothing to do with Sam Adams.  But it's at least made in Boston.  Right?


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Finding One Actual Sam Breakstone

Sam Breakstone just accepted my Friend request on Facebook!

Samantha Breakstone, currently in law school, is now officially a friend of mine ... and over five hundred other people.  But the important thing is that, in a small and possibly psychologically unhealthy way, I have found Sam Breakstone.

No pictures of her out of respect for her privacy, but this is great.  I was starting to get a little discouraged.

My wife, for example, is not impressed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Finding Dean Hunter

There are certain times when I really miss this guy:

Pictured:  Not Eliot Spitzer
That's my former law school dean and contracts professor, Howard Hunter.  He wrote a treatise on Contract Law.  If I'd read it, I might have passed his class.  Also, I might have a better handle on how to interpret the contract sent to me by Nancy Vale.

The letter agreement, from November 1985, is the contract for Michael Vale to continue portraying Sam Breakstone.  It is signed by Michael and Geers Gross Advertising, as agent for Kraft Dairy Group.  It came at a time when the Sam Breakstone campaign was winding down and the Dunkin' Donuts' "Time To Make The Donuts" campaign had already taken off.

It's an amazing look into how advertisers and entertainers work together, and just how much Sam Breakstone was worth.  I have retouched a few details to protect Nancy Vale's privacy.  Before you go knocking on doors, she hasn't lived at the address in the contract for some decades.

Michael apparently received $100,000.00.  This entitled Geers Gross to demand a minimum amount of work, but he got that $100,000.00 even if they had him do less ... including nothing.

Most of the work he was required to do is on this page.  He had to do four days of work shooting three commercials, and would be paid $2,500.00 per day for anything above that.  There's some language about reuse of commercials which I ... do not understand.

He was obliged to do radio commercials.  If they exceeded his base, he received $1,000.00 per commercial. Reuse of commercials was extra and didn't count towards his base.

He had to sit for two days of still photography.  Additional days were paid at $2,500.00 each above his minimum.  The pictures could be used for for magazines and POP.  What is POP?  Point of Purchase.  It means a big cardboard cut-out of him in the supermarket.  Once his $100,000.00 minimum was reached, Geers Gross had to pay up to $4,000.00 every three months to put his photograph in a magazine ad.

Once they met his minimum, personal appearances cost $3,000.00 each.  If Kraft wanted Michael Vale to show up somewhere, they had to hand him three thousand dollars.

Publicity appearances cost $2,500.00.  What's the difference between a personal appearance and a publicity appearance?  Really.  I'm asking you.  I have no idea.

Michael was paid $750.00 a day to travel.  It had to be by first class, include hotel and meals for two plus $200.00 a day walking around money.

The balance of page three and the start of the next involves apportioning the monies to comply with Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Actors requirements.  Michael Vale was a member of more than one union, and they were required to follow union rules.  That included sending money directly to the unions' pension funds.
Probably the coolest thing on this page is that the letter references standard clauses in the final contract like force majeure and morals.  If a war broke out, preventing Kraft from shooting commercials, they wouldn't be liable under the contract.  If Mr. Vale tweeted insensitive things about the Japanese tsunami victims, they could fire him.

Being under contract as a commercial actor is fairly rare.  Usually, actors are hired for one commercial at a time.  The fact that Mr. Vale was under contract at all shows just how seriously invested Kraft was in the character he brought to life.  This would be the top tier of payment for a commercial actor (except for celebrity endorsement deals). So, is it more or less money than you thought.

If Geer Gross wanted to shoot four days of commercials in Los Angeles, the costs just for one actor were:

$1,500.00     -  Two Travel Days
$2,000.00  -     Two First Class Tickets
$1,000.00    -   Four Nights Hotel Accommodations
$800.00    -      Four Nights Meals
$800.00    -      Per Diem
$10,000.00 -    Four Day Commercial Shoot
$3,000.00   -    Meet and Greet with Kraft Executives

TOTAL:  $19,100.00 for six days.

According to this inflation calculator, Michael Vale's $100,000.00 minimum would be $208,147.20 today and the above total would be almost exactly forty thousand dollars.  In fairness, Michael Vale split that money with his agents, managers, unions, the United States of America, and the State of New York.  How much of each dollar earned he actually kept is unknown.

Was Michael Vale fairly compensated?  Was he overcompensated?  And is it even possible to calculate how much money Kraft made due to his efforts?  Can you believe that number is still growing?  Kraft is still making money today because of the brand image he helped build decades ago.

This is the first time this contract has seen the light of day in twenty-six years.  Copy, link, share.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Finding Time To Hide The Donuts

Michael Vale memorably played Sam Breakstone.  But he achieved a kind of cultural immortality with another advertising icon - Dunkin' Donuts' Fred the Baker.
His character had a name?

For fifteen years, from 1982 to 1997, Dunkin' Donuts sold a brand image based on their dedication to making fresh donuts every morning.  No matter how tiring, Dunkin' Donuts' employees were fulfilling their responsibilities to millions of Americans.  That's not me talking, that's Ron Berger, the ad exec who cast Vale, speaking in a 2005 interview with CNN.  Fred the Baker and his catchphrase, time to make the donuts, "was a symbol of the routine of having to get up and fulfill a responsibility."

That's what doughnuts were:  a staple of breakfast so important that Dunkin' Donuts saw it as a responsibility to make them fresh every morning.

That campaign ended in 1997.  Fourteen years later, Dunkin' Donuts is still a strong restaurant chain.  But have you noticed something about their commercials?

Check out the front page of their website.  Across the top reads links to coffee, menu, restaurants, etc.  Here's the coffee page.  Here's the menu page.  Quick question.  On any of those pages so far, have you seen a picture of even one damn doughnut?

In fact, here's the list of their menu items from their own website, exactly as they appear:

Doughnuts are tenth on the list.  Tenth.

Here's the Dunkin' Donuts Twitter feed.  Read down them and find one post that explicitly mentions doughnuts.

This is a typical Dunkin' Donuts commercial today:

Rachel Ray has recorded several spots for Dunkin' Donuts since 2007.  Guess how many involved actual doughnuts.  Also, Michelle Malkin accused her and Dunkin' Donuts of sending a message that they were pro-terrorist.

The reason is fairly obvious.  Trends and reliable scientific surveys over the last twenty years have shown that Americans are, very slowly, becoming more health conscious.  Corporations have responded by following the dollars and emphasizing the healthfulness of their products.  Sometimes this means actually offering better food; sometimes it means just obscuring how bad their food really is.

My Id says this is a fine breakfast.
My Superego actually kind of wants it, too.
And doughnuts are pretty bad.  One glazed doughnut from Dunkin' has 260 calories, 14 grams of fat and almost no vitamins or minerals.  About half the calories in the doughnut come from fat.  Surprisingly, though,  Dunkin' makes Men's Health's list of worst breakfasts for a simple bagel with cream cheese (510 calories  and 78 grams of carbs make it equal to about two doughnuts, although with half the fat.  But, and this is the important part, this menu item appears to be healthier than doughnuts.  In fairness, Dunkin' also had Men Health's number one healthful breakfast sandwich.

So, the brand image of a company with donuts in its name is being remade to exclude the doughnuts.  Dunkin' does run a small contest each year to design a new doughnut, but they've actually come out and admitted that their advertising is shifting towards anything that isn't a doughnut.

Are they lying?  Are they inviting consumers to delude themselves?  Are they just following market trends and offering consumers exactly what they want:  the appearance of health without the bother of actually changing one's diet?

One thing is certain:  It could be worse.  You could be eating at Denny's.